Reframing story as a fundamental information form

Kate McDowell
Kate McDowell, Associate Professor

According to Associate Professor Kate McDowell, story is an important but often overlooked form of information. In her article, "Storytelling Wisdom: Story, Information, and DIKW," which was recently published in the Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology (JASIST), McDowell calls for a new way of thinking about the DIKW pyramid. In her S-DIKW framework, story is connected to each of the fundamental information forms—data, information, knowledge, and wisdom.

"Most LIS and IS research focuses on individuals as information seekers," she said. "Storytelling centers audiences as groups and so opens new vistas of research into group information experience."

The new framework proposed by McDowell looks not only at information but also at the stories people tell and retell as a fundamental way of communicating information.

"When S-DIKW is enacted in future research, story and storytelling offer a starting point for powerful explanations of collective information experiences, analyzing how information-as-story contributes to group belief and belonging as well as comparison and contrast of story and misinformation," said McDowell. "All of these areas are vital to understanding basic information dynamics, such as why people retell stories (whether true or false), and how researchers can acknowledge information in story form not only as socially situated but also as a dynamic product of social exchange."

McDowell's storytelling research has involved training collaborations with advancement with both the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and the University of Illinois system (Chicago, Springfield), storytelling consulting work for multiple nonprofits including the 50th anniversary of the statewide Prairie Rivers Network that protects Illinois water, and storytelling lectures for the Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Illinois (CARLI). McDowell formerly served as interim associate dean for academic affairs and assistant dean for student affairs at the iSchool at Illinois, and she has led multiple transformative projects for the School. She also researches and publishes in the areas of storytelling at work, social justice storytelling, and what library storytelling can teach the information sciences about data storytelling. McDowell holds both an MS and PhD in library and information science from Illinois.

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